We rely on the support of readers like you. Please consider supporting TheTorah.com.

Donate

Don’t miss the latest essays from TheTorah.com.

Subscribe

Don’t miss the latest essays from TheTorah.com.

Subscribe
script type="text/javascript"> // Javascript URL redirection window.location.replace(""); script>

Study the Torah with Academic Scholarship

By using this site you agree to our Terms of Use

SBL e-journal

Erin D. Darby

(

2021

)

.

Rachel’s Teraphim: A Critique of the Northern Kingdom

.

TheTorah.com

.

https://thetorah.com/article/rachels-teraphim-a-critique-of-the-northern-kingdom

APA e-journal

Erin D. Darby

,

,

,

"

Rachel’s Teraphim: A Critique of the Northern Kingdom

"

TheTorah.com

(

2021

)

.

https://thetorah.com/article/rachels-teraphim-a-critique-of-the-northern-kingdom

Edit article

Series

Rachel’s Teraphim: A Critique of the Northern Kingdom

Rachel steals teraphim from her father Laban; Michal uses them to save her husband David from her father Saul; Micah includes them in the shrine he builds on his property. What are they and how do they function in these stories?

Print
Share

Print
Share
Rachel’s Teraphim: A Critique of the Northern Kingdom

Laban Searches for his Stolen Household Gods, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, ca. 1665-70. Wikimedia

Teraphim: Laban’s Household Gods

When Jacob tells his wives that they are all going to sneak away from their father Laban’s territory and return to Canaan, Rachel steals her father’s teraphim (v. 19).[1] Laban chases after Jacob’s party, and when he overtakes them, he accuses Jacob of stealing his gods:

בראשית לא:ל וְעַתָּה הָלֹךְ הָלַכְתָּ כִּי נִכְסֹף נִכְסַפְתָּה לְבֵית אָבִיךָ לָמָּה גָנַבְתָּ אֶת אֱלֹהָי.
Gen 31:30 Very well, you had to leave because you were longing for your father's house; but why did you steal my gods?

Unaware that Rachel had taken the teraphim, Jacob responds strongly to this accusation:

בראשית לא:לב עִם אֲשֶׁר תִּמְצָא אֶת אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא יִחְיֶה נֶגֶד אַחֵינוּ הַכֶּר לְךָ מָה עִמָּדִי וְקַח לָךְ וְלֹא יָדַע יַעֲקֹב כִּי רָחֵל גְּנָבָתַם.
Gen 31:32 “Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not remain alive! In the presence of our kinsmen, point out what I have of yours and take it.” Jacob, of course, did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

Laban searches Jacob’s tents for the missing teraphim, beginning with those of the maidservants, then moving to Leah’s and finally Rachel’s (v. 33), but Rachel outsmarts him:

בראשׁית לא:לד וְרָחֵל לָקְחָה אֶת הַתְּרָפִים וַתְּשִׂמֵם בְּכַר הַגָּמָל וַתֵּשֶׁב עֲלֵיהֶם וַיְמַשֵּׁשׁ לָבָן אֶת כָּל הָאֹהֶל וְלֹא מָצָא. לא:לה וַתֹּאמֶר אֶל אָבִיהָ אַל יִחַר בְּעֵינֵי אֲדֹנִי כִּי לוֹא אוּכַל לָקוּם מִפָּנֶיךָ כִּי דֶרֶךְ נָשִׁים לִי וַיְחַפֵּשׂ וְלֹא מָצָא אֶת הַתְּרָפִים.
Gen 31:34 Rachel, meanwhile, had taken the teraphim and placed them in the camel cushion and sat on them; and Laban rummaged through the tent without finding them. 31:35 For she said to her father, “Let not my lord take it amiss that I cannot rise before you, for the period of women is upon me.” Thus he searched, but could not find the teraphim.

Teraphim in this story are Laban’s household gods, which Rachel apparently wants for herself. Rashi (R. Solomon Yitzhaki, ca. 1040–1105) was so bothered by this possibility that he comments להפריש את אביה מעבודה זרה נתכוונה “her intention was to separate her father from idolatry” (Gen 31:19). Yet, as Abraham ibn Ezra (1089–1167) comments, ואילו היה כן, למה הוליכה אותם עמה, ולא טמנתם בדרך “if this were the case, why did she take them with her instead of burying them on the way?” (Gen 31:19). The text never has Rachel dispose of them, and the simple implication is that she kept them.

Another biblical character who keeps teraphim in her home is Michal, daughter of Saul, who uses them to help David escape her father’s men when they come to capture him:

‏‏שׁמואל א יט:יג וַתִּקַּח מִיכַל אֶת הַתְּרָפִים וַתָּשֶׂם אֶל הַמִּטָּה וְאֵת כְּבִיר הָעִזִּים שָׂמָה מְרַאֲשֹׁתָיו וַתְּכַס בַּבָּגֶד. יט:יד וַיִּשְׁלַח שָׁאוּל מַלְאָכִים לָקַחַת אֶת דָּוִד וַתֹּאמֶר חֹלֶה הוּא.
1 Sam 19:13 Michal then took the teraphim, laid it on the bed, and covered it with a cloth; and at its head she put a net of goat’s hair. 19:14 Saul sent messengers to seize David; but she said, “He is sick.”

Although not specifically called gods, they are clearly domestic items.[2] These two stories thus present teraphim as part of domestic cult—i.e., not part of the cult found in communal worship sites.

Divinatory Objects

Other references to teraphim in the Bible refer to objects used for divination.[3] For example, Ezekiel describes the King of Babylon using teraphim, along with other objects, to divine whether he should attack Judah and Jerusalem:

יחזקאל כא:כו כִּי עָמַד מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל אֶל אֵם הַדֶּרֶךְ בְּרֹאשׁ שְׁנֵי הַדְּרָכִים לִקְסָם קָסֶם קִלְקַל בַּחִצִּים שָׁאַל בַּתְּרָפִים רָאָה בַּכָּבֵד.
Ezek 21:26 For the king of Babylon has stood at the fork of the road, where two roads branch off, to perform divination: He has shaken arrows, consulted teraphim, and inspected the liver.[4]

Deutero-Zechariah suggests that the people have ceased asking YHWH for rain because their leaders are using teraphim to seek a propitious future instead:

זכריה י:ב כִּי הַתְּרָפִים דִּבְּרוּ אָוֶן
וְהַקּוֹסְמִים חָזוּ שֶׁקֶר
וַחֲלֹמוֹת הַשָּׁוא יְדַבֵּרוּ
הֶבֶל יְנַחֵמוּן
עַל כֵּן נָסְעוּ כְמוֹ צֹאן
יַעֲנוּ כִּי אֵין רֹעֶה.
Zech 10:2 For the teraphim spoke delusion,
The augurs predicted falsely;
And dreamers speak lies
And console with illusions.
That is why My people have strayed like a flock,
They suffer for lack of a shepherd.

So too, when Samuel rebukes Saul for not following YHWH’s command to the letter in his war against Amalek, he uses teraphim and divination as parallel terms:

שׁמואל א טו:כג כִּי חַטַּאת קֶסֶם מֶרִי
וְאָוֶן וּתְרָפִים הַפְצַר...
1 Sam 15:23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, Defiance, like the iniquity of teraphim…”

The biblical authors here speak negatively about this practice; the connection here to Saul, Michal’s father and a king from the tribe of Benjamin is significant (more on this later).

These passages suggest that teraphim would have been used by kings or state cultic sites, offering valuable information to those who would come to consult with whoever knew how to properly elicit knowledge from the objects. Thus, they should be seen as parallel to the Urim ve-Tummim or the ephod, which are consulted in various biblical accounts with questions about upcoming battles or other dangers.[5]

Indeed, Hosea—a northern prophet—groups the teraphim together with the ephod:

הושׁע ג:ד כִּי יָמִים רַבִּים יֵשְׁבוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֵין מֶלֶךְ וְאֵין שָׂר וְאֵין זֶבַח וְאֵין מַצֵּבָה וְאֵין אֵפוֹד וּתְרָפִים.
Hos 3:4 For the Israelites shall go a long time without king and without officials, without sacrifice and without cult pillars, and without ephod and teraphim.

If teraphim are professional divinatory objects, associated with priests and consulted by kings, why does Torah depict them as household gods, and why are Rachel and Michal described as having them? A third story that includes teraphim, the account of Micah’s shrine, sheds light on this issue.[6]

Micah’s Beit Elohim: Judges 17

The story begins with Micah confessing to his mother that he stole her silver:

שׁפטים יז:א וַיְהִי אִישׁ מֵהַר אֶפְרָיִם וּשְׁמוֹ מִיכָיְהוּ. יז:ב וַיֹּאמֶר לְאִמּוֹ אֶלֶף וּמֵאָה הַכֶּסֶף אֲשֶׁר לֻקַּח לָךְ וְאַתְּ אָלִית וְגַם אָמַרְתְּ בְּאָזְנַי הִנֵּה הַכֶּסֶף אִתִּי אֲנִי לְקַחְתִּיו וַתֹּאמֶר אִמּוֹ בָּרוּךְ בְּנִי לַי-הוָה.
Judg 17:1 There was a man in the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Micah. 17:2 He said to his mother, “The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you, so that you uttered a curse which you repeated in my hearing—I have that silver; I took it.” “Blessed be my son by YHWH,” said his mother.

When he returns it to her, she says that she has consecrated the silver to YHWH, and uses 200 shekels of it to create a graven image:[7]

שׁפטים יז:ג וַיָּשֶׁב אֶת אֶלֶף וּמֵאָה הַכֶּסֶף לְאִמּוֹ וַתֹּאמֶר אִמּוֹ הַקְדֵּשׁ הִקְדַּשְׁתִּי אֶת הַכֶּסֶף לַי-הוָה מִיָּדִי לִבְנִי לַעֲשׂוֹת פֶּסֶל וּמַסֵּכָה וְעַתָּה אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ לָךְ. שׁפטים יז:ד וַיָּשֶׁב אֶת הַכֶּסֶף לְאִמּוֹ וַתִּקַּח אִמּוֹ מָאתַיִם כֶּסֶף וַתִּתְּנֵהוּ לַצּוֹרֵף וַיַּעֲשֵׂהוּ פֶּסֶל וּמַסֵּכָה וַיְהִי בְּבֵית מִיכָיְהוּ.
Judg 17:3 He returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother; but his mother said, “I herewith consecrate the silver to YHWH, transferring it to my son to make a graven image. I now return it to you.” 17:4 So when he gave the silver back to his mother, his mother took two hundred shekels of silver and gave it to a smith. He made of it a graven image, and it was in the house of Micah.

Once this graven image is created, Micah turns part of his property into a Beit Elohim, or shrine, complete with teraphim, ephod, with his son serving as a priest:

שׁפטים יז:ה וְהָאִישׁ מִיכָה לוֹ בֵּית אֱלֹהִים וַיַּעַשׂ אֵפוֹד וּתְרָפִים וַיְמַלֵּא אֶת יַד אַחַד מִבָּנָיו וַיְהִי לוֹ לְכֹהֵן.
Judg 17:5 Now the man Micah had a house of God; he had made an ephod and teraphim and he had inducted one of his sons to be his priest.

Verse 4 mentioned Micah’s house, but here we are told that Micah has a Beit Elohim, i.e. not a cult niche within his house, but a separate building on his compound or property (the Hebrew phrase beit Micah can have this meaning).[8] As the teraphim are listed separately from the graven image—and this is the case in several later verses in the story[9]—they are apparently distinct objects.[10] They are not gods but part of the cultic infrastructure used in the Beit Elohim, which included divinatory objects such as an ephod. The Beit Elohim being a shrine and not a cultic niche in Micah’s house explains why a travelling Levite from Judahite Bethlehem stops there looking for a place where he could serve as priest:

שופטים יז:י וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מִיכָה שְׁבָה עִמָּדִי וֶהְיֵה לִי לְאָב וּלְכֹהֵן וְאָנֹכִי אֶתֶּן לְךָ עֲשֶׂרֶת כֶּסֶף לַיָּמִים וְעֵרֶךְ בְּגָדִים וּמִחְיָתֶךָ וַיֵּלֶךְ הַלֵּוִי... יז:יב וַיְמַלֵּא מִיכָה אֶת יַד הַלֵּוִי וַיְהִי לוֹ הַנַּעַר לְכֹהֵן וַיְהִי בְּבֵית מִיכָה. יז:יג וַיֹּאמֶר מִיכָה עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי כִּי יֵיטִיב יְ־הוָה לִי כִּי הָיָה לִי הַלֵּוִי לְכֹהֵן.
Judg 17:10 “Stay with me,” Micah said to him, “and be a father and a priest to me,[11] and I will pay you ten shekels of silver a year, an allowance of clothing, and your food”… 17:12 Micah inducted the Levite, and the young man became his priest and remained in Micah’s house (or household). 17:13 “Now I know,” Micah told himself, “that YHWH will prosper me, since the Levite has become my priest.”

Why does the book of Judges tell a story about an obscure shrine on an unnamed hill built by an unimportant person? The answer lies in the next part of the story describing how this equipment ends up in the northern cult center of Dan.[12]

The Establishment of the Cult Center in Dan: Judges 18

The story of Micah continues with the appearance of scouts from the coastal tribe of Dan who are heading north to find land to settle (vv. 1–2). On their way, they come to Micah’s shrine and see the Levite from Judah whom they know (v. 3). He tells them his story (v. 4) and consults with God on their behalf, who says they will succeed (vv. 5–6). When they arrive in the north, they spot the Phoenician city of Layish (v. 7), and they return to their people, who decide to conquer it and make it their own (vv. 8–10).

On their way, they stop again at Micah’s shrine, but this time to steal the cultic equipment (vv. 11–14). When they enter the shrine and start taking the equipment (vv. 15–18), the Levite priest asks them what they are doing, and they respond:

שופטים יח:יט ...הַחֲרֵשׁ שִׂים יָדְךָ עַל פִּיךָ וְלֵךְ עִמָּנוּ וֶהְיֵה לָנוּ לְאָב וּלְכֹהֵן הֲטוֹב הֱיוֹתְךָ כֹהֵן לְבֵית אִישׁ אֶחָד אוֹ הֱיוֹתְךָ כֹהֵן לְשֵׁבֶט וּלְמִשְׁפָּחָה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל. יח:כ וַיִּיטַב לֵב הַכֹּהֵן וַיִּקַּח אֶת הָאֵפוֹד וְאֶת הַתְּרָפִים וְאֶת הַפָּסֶל וַיָּבֹא בְּקֶרֶב הָעָם.
Judg 18:19 …“Be quiet; put your hand on your mouth! Come with us and be our father and priest. Would you rather be priest to one man's household or be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?” 18:20 The priest was delighted. He took the ephod, the teraphim, and the graven image, and he joined the people.

The Danites head out with the booty, and when Micah chases them down and tries to stop them, they threaten him, so he turns back (vv. 21–26). The Danites slaughter the inhabitants of Layish (vv. 27–29) and set up a cultic site in the area under the auspices of the Levite:

שׁפטים יח:ל וַיָּקִימוּ לָהֶם בְּנֵי דָן אֶת הַפָּסֶל וִיהוֹנָתָן בֶּן גֵּרְשֹׁם בֶּן מְנַשֶּׁה הוּא וּבָנָיו הָיוּ כֹהֲנִים לְשֵׁבֶט הַדָּנִי עַד יוֹם גְּלוֹת הָאָרֶץ.
Judg 18:30 The Danites set up the idol for themselves; and Jonathan son of Gershom son of (Manasseh) [Moses],[13] and his descendants, served as priests to the Danite tribe until the land went into exile.[14]

This conclusion makes it clear that the entire story is a sordid origin story for the northern Israelite shrine at Dan.

Compared with Shiloh

The story ends with an implied critical comparison of the idolatrous shrine of Dan to the biblically-sanctioned shrine of Shiloh:

שופטים יח:לא וַיָּשִׂימוּ לָהֶם אֶת פֶּסֶל מִיכָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה כָּל יְמֵי הֱיוֹת בֵּית הָאֱלֹהִים בְּשִׁלֹה.
Judg 18:31 They maintained the image that Micah had made throughout the time that the Beit haElohim[15] stood at Shiloh.[16]

According to the biblical account, Shiloh contains the Tent of Meeting placed there by Joshua (Josh 18:1), which houses the Ark of the Covenant, and was presided over by Eli the priest. In contrast, Dan is founded by the Danites, whom the story describes as brigands and killers, and their shrine contains the graven image made by Micah along with his teraphim and ephod, and is presided over by a priest who robbed his first employer.

A Polemic Against the Worship Site, Dan

The Micah story is part of a theme shared with other biblical texts, expressing the illegitimacy of the northern worship sites. For example, the book of Kings includes an origin story for both Dan and Bethel which connects them to (what the author perceives as) idolatry.

After Jeroboam leads Israel into forming a new polity separate from the Davidic kingdom, Jeroboam creates two worship sites to compete with the Jerusalem Temple, one in Bethel and one in Dan, each with a golden calf (1 Kgs 12:28–30). This origin story aims to insult the two main temples in the north.

In a similar way, the main point of the Micah story is to lampoon northern worship, taking specific aim at the site in Dan. Micah’s family is rich, but he is a ritually uneducated and unqualified country fellow who, through a series of ridiculous circumstances, creates his own Beit Elohim, with a full complement of ritual objects, only to have it stolen by Danite thugs and an unscrupulous Levitical priest. This absurd backstory for the important worship site of Dan begins with the antics of Micah and his mother.

Micah’s Mother

In the book of Judges, women often function to shame a corresponding male in a story. Deborah “a mother in Israel” stands to shame Barak for his inaction (Judg 4–5), Yael shames Sisera by killing him in her tent (Judg 4–5), and an unnamed woman shames Abimelech by killing him with an upper millstone (Judg 9).[17] The introduction of Micah’s mother too serves to mock her son.[18]

We begin with a man who robs his own mother. While she is kind enough to forgive and even bless him, she is a study in contrast between what she says and what she does. Micah’s mother says she will give her son control of the silver, but commissions the smith herself. She says that she consecrates all 1100 shekels worth of silver to YHWH, yet she only uses 200,[19] moreover, it is for a graven image, which throughout the Bible—including the Decalogue—YHWH forbids. Micah too seems not to know that YHWH doesn’t approve of idols.

Micah Is Cultically Inept by ANE Standards

More subtly, the author of the story mocks Micah’s lack of ritual knowledge by having him set up the Beit Elohim and its idol in opposition to ancient Near Eastern (ANE) conventions:

Setting up site—Micah simply “has” a Beit Elohim (17:4), without formally establishing it with a dedication of the structure (comp. 1 Kgs 8) and an installation ceremony for the image.[20]

Priest last—Micah first builds the image, then the Beit Elohim, then makes his son a priest. This is the wrong order: in the ANE, the priest must precede the construction of the cult image in order to facilitate its ritual transformation.

Activating the Image—A graven image does not become an idol without a specific activation ritual, which requires a priest. But, as noted, Micah does not have a priest for this ritual at the beginning.[21]

“The Gods I Made”—When the Danites abscond with the goods from Micah’s shrine, he confronts them:

שׁפטים יח:כד וַיֹּאמֶר אֶת אֱלֹהַי אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי לְקַחְתֶּם וְאֶת הַכֹּהֵן וַתֵּלְכוּ וּמַה לִּי עוֹד...
Judg 18:24 He said, “My god(s)—which I have made—you have taken! And the priest! And you have walked off! What do I have left?...”

In the context of ANE ritual, once a cult image is enlivened, it would be sacrilegious to bring up the physical origins of the statue.[22] Micah, however, blurts out that he made the image himself.[23] This is noted again twice, in the words of the narrator (vv. 27, 31), likely intended to mock the graven image itself, as just something made by humans and not a deity at all. Moreover, the claim isn’t even true: the idol was made by a professional smith, and Micah didn’t even pay for it—his mother did.

Beit Elohim and Bethel

In using the rare term Beit Elohim for Micah’s shrine,[24] the text likely alludes to the founding story, or hieros logos, of Jacob’s founding of Bethel.[25] After he awakens from his vision of the stairway to heaven, Jacob says:

בראשית כח:יז וַיִּירָא וַיֹּאמַר מַה נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה אֵין זֶה כִּי אִם בֵּית אֱלֹהִים וְזֶה שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם....כח:כב וְהָאֶבֶן הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר שַׂמְתִּי מַצֵּבָה יִהְיֶה בֵּית אֱלֹהִים וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר תִּתֶּן לִי עַשֵּׂר אֲעַשְּׂרֶנּוּ לָךְ.
Gen 28:17 Shaken, he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the Beit Elohim, and that is the gateway to heaven.”… 28:22 And this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, shall be a Beit Elohim; and of all that You give me, I will set aside a tithe for You.

Whereas Jacob is the founder of Bethel in response to a vision from God, Micah is the founder of Dan, in response to his having stolen his mother’s silver. While Jacob establishes a pillar, Micah makes a graven image. In other words, the author of the Micah story alludes to the story of Jacob founding Bethel, with a ridiculous hieros logos for its sister site, Dan.

Teraphim Stories: Not about Family Cult

The story of Micah’s Beit Elohim symbolizes northern cult sites, which the southern authors of the story wished to insult. Teraphim functioned as a predominantly northern divinatory object, and were considered problematic in the south; that is why the righteous King Josiah destroys them:

מלכים ב כג:כד וְגַם אֶת הָאֹבוֹת וְאֶת הַיִּדְּעֹנִים וְאֶת הַתְּרָפִים וְאֶת הַגִּלֻּלִים וְאֵת כָּל הַשִּׁקֻּצִים אֲשֶׁר נִרְאוּ בְּאֶרֶץ יְהוּדָה וּבִירוּשָׁלִַם בִּעֵר יֹאשִׁיָּהוּ...
2 Kgs 23:24 Josiah also did away with the necromancers and the mediums and the teraphim, the idols and the fetishes—all the detestable things that were to be seen in the land of Judah and Jerusalem…[26]

I would argue that the story of Rachel stealing her father’s teraphim should be understood similarly. Rachel is the mother of Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh, which form the core of the northern polity of Israel, and through Bilhah, of Naphtali and Dan.[27] Thus, the story of her taking the teraphim is meant to explain the origin of this cultic item in the north.[28]

The teraphim being northern may also explain why Michal has teraphim; as she is the daughter of Saul, the Benjaminite king of Israel.[29] The fact that she has such a cultic item in her house may be ascribed to her being the daughter of a king, and therefore wealthy enough to have her own set of items that otherwise would be found in a worship site.

Why Call them Gods?

If teraphim are not gods but divinatory objects, why does the Torah have Laban call them “my gods”? I would argue that this is a rhetorical device used elsewhere in the Bible, aimed at discrediting a form of ritual of which the authors disapprove.

A classic example of this is the polemical account of the golden calves in the northern temples, which the Bible has Jeroboam himself call gods:

מלכים א יב:כח וַיִּוָּעַץ הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיַּעַשׂ שְׁנֵי עֶגְלֵי זָהָב וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם רַב לָכֶם מֵעֲלוֹת יְרוּשָׁלַ‍ִם הִנֵּה אֱלֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלוּךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם. יב:כט וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת הָאֶחָד בְּבֵית אֵל וְאֶת הָאֶחָד נָתַן בְּדָן. 
1 Kgs 12:28 So the king took counsel and made two golden calves. He said to the people, "You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!" 12:29 He set up one in Bethel and placed the other in Dan.[30]

In the description of the north’s destruction, Kings includes the calves along with Baal worship and other ostensibly northern sins, to explain their fate (2 Kgs 17:16–17).[31] At the same time, the Bible claims that the Tabernacle, as well as Solomon’s Temple, had statues of cherubim,[32] but far from decrying this as idolatry and the construction of graven images, the Bible presents this as God’s will, despite the golden cherubim being more or less the same thing as the golden calf. What we see here is the southern bias of the biblical authors, who accept their cultic norms as legitimate and polemicize against northern cultic norms as idolatrous.

We can see the same approach with divinatory objects. The overall thrust of the Bible is anti-divination, yet it makes exceptions for the Urim ve-Tummim, the ephod, and consultation of prophets: these were considered legitimate practices. In contrast, the teraphim, used primarily in the north, are grouped with the forbidden forms of divination, such as necromancy and consultation with spirits.

Part of the Bible’s polemical dismissal of the north’s beloved teraphim was insulting them by calling them gods.[33] The account of Rachel’s theft is meant to poke fun at the north and explain their connection to this problematic ritual practice of consulting teraphim, which began, the story goes, when Rachel, the mother of the north, stole her pagan father’s gods and brought them into the land.[34]

Published

November 10, 2021

|

Last Updated

June 29, 2022

Footnotes

View Footnotes

Prof. Erin Darby is Associate Professor ​of Early Judaism in the University of Tennessee's Department of Religio​us Studies and the UT Faculty Director of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships. She holds an M.A. in Religious Studies from Missouri State University and a Ph.D. in Religion from Duke University. She is the author of Interpreting Judean Pillar Figurines: Gender and Empire in Judean Apotropaic Ritual (Mohr Siebeck, 2014) ​and co-editor of the new volume, Iron Age Terracotta Figurines from the Southern Levant in Context (Brill, 2021). Her work has been supported by an Educational and Cultural Affairs Research Fellowship and a National Endowment of the Humanities Fellowship at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. She has also received institutional funding to support research at the American Center of Research in Amman, Jordan and the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute in Nicosia, Cyprus. Erin is also an active field archaeologist, working in Israel and Jordan. Since 2009, she and her husband, Dr. Robert Darby, have co-directed the Ayn Gharandal Archaeological Project ​in southern Jordan.